Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Getting irate about being ripped off; today it's the car hire companies...

I'm not a campaigning sort of a person. Yes, I put my name to lots of petitions, and from time to time support campaigns on Twitter and here, on The Potty Diaries, but overall I don't usually use 'my' space on the internet as a platform to push for change.

But something has caught my attention and it's really got my goat, so I want to try and start a conversation about it. It's nothing earth-shattering, but it is unfair and I find it intensely annoying that the average consumer is being screwed over by a group of companies who think that they can get away with something just because they're all doing it.

What is it?

Car seats.

To be precise, car hire companies and booster seats - and the shocking way that parents of children under 12 are ripped off.

If you don't have children under the age of 12 (or over the height of 135 cm, whichever comes first - see here for full UK government guidelines) this may not be something you're concerned about, in which case click away now, because I am going to have a good old-fashioned rant on this subject.

We are a family that travels. Even when we visit 'home' we are not the sort of expats who are lucky enough to arrive back in our country of origin to a car that's been mothballed during our absence; if we want to be mobile and able to visit family and friends in difficult to reach places in the UK, we have to hire a car. And, with two children well under both the height and age limits for car booster seats in the UK, we need booster seats for them to sit on.

All well and good. But where to get them from?

Essentially there are 3 options.

1. Take booster seats with us

Increasingly we do this, but it's not always practical if we are only going for a short trip (family emergencies, surprise visits etc). Even when it is, in today's world of ever-decreasing baggage allowances I'm not sure how much longer we're going to be able to keep it up. And when you're away for more than a week or so and unsure what the weather might hold for you - welcome to Britain in Summer! - you need clothes to cover every eventuality, so finding the space for two booster seats - even the less bulky kind - isn't easy. Of course, there are companies that help with this (the excellent inflatable Bubblebum and Trunki's BoostaPak are two that spring to mind), but not everybody is in the position to spend the money involved, especially if you have two or more children, and even these options take space.

2. Buy a booster seat when we reach our destination

Because that's every holiday-maker's dream, isn't it, to pick up their hire car and then head straight for the nearest B&Q / Mothercare / Halfords to pick up booster seats for their children so they can safely drive on to their destination? And then of course, what to do with them when your trip is over? Leave them with the car you've hired (hardly 'reduce, reuse and recyle' if you do that every time you make a trip), or try to cram it into your already over-stuffed suitcase along with the dirty laundry? *

Which leaves us with...

3. Hire a booster seat from your car hire company

If you book your car hire online, as most of us do, the option to book car seats - and the cost of doing so - will not show up until you confirm your booking. For some reason - I can't imagine why - the quotation with which you are hooked into a car hire deal won't give you the opportunity to see the price of a car seat. Whisper it softly, but perhaps this is because if you have two or more children, the price is so ridiculous that they don't want you to know what it is in advance.

Hiring a booster seat from the mainstream car hire companies in the UK will cost you a minimum of £4 a day, and a maximum of £9 a day, per booster seat. So say you hire booster seats for a week for two children under 12 years old, that will cost you £56 at best, and £126 at worst. Obviously you're not going to spend that money, especially when the car itself is yours for the week at around £130.**

Instead then, you are forced either to take your own booster seat, or to purchase one at the nearest shop selling them once you've collected the car, and then possibly leaving it in your hire car when you return it. I mean, why not, since you may only have paid £10 for it at Halfords or similar? (I can tell you why not, actually; I am damned if I'm going to give these companies another car seat to add to their inventory for them to then make a clear profit on when they use it for the next hapless consumer with young children).

So here's my question; why don't Europcar, Hertz, Avis, Alamo, Budget, Sixt, Thrifty, Dollar, National and the rest, many of whom make noises about making consumer's lives easier and being family friendly, and safety conscious, to boot, (boom boom) do something about this?

They wouldn't have to give booster seats away for free - heaven forbid. They could take a deposit to the value of the seat against it's clean and useable return (and those of us who have used their in-house models know that 'clean' is not something always guaranteed even when you pay the hefty hire charge). Hell, I don't want not to pay for a service; they could even keep some deposit at the end of the hire period - £5, perhaps - to cover the cost to them of buying new booster seats every 4 hires or so. As if.

As I said at the start of this post, there are far more important issues in the world out there than this right now. But to me this is just another example of consumers being ripped off by suppliers for no good reason other than that the suppliers can get away with it. And whilst that is inherently part of a market economy, I resent that they are making use of my parental wish - and legal obligation - to keep my children safe on the roads, to do so.

What do you think?

*Of course, if you're flying to meet up with family, there's always the option of persuading long-suffering relatives to meet you at the airport with a booster seat you have left with them. Except... that's always assuming they live close enough to do it, and that they will also be happy to accompany you back there on the way to connect with your return flight too. Even the most doting grannies and grandads are going to find that one loses it's attraction soon enough.

** The hire price for a small 5 door car based on a quote received yesterday for 1 week in July 2012


Irene said...

That sounds perfectly reasonable to me and the price you quoated for booster seats rental sounds outrageous. I would have an outright fit if I would have to pay it. It does sound as though people are being ripped off left and right. Car rental companies ought to be very ashamed of themselves. What's that going to do to their image? I'm certainly more than disappointed.

Muddling Along said...

That is crazy - was wondering about the inflatable ones as a way of getting around our booster seat dilemma in the summer hols because it packs flat - the trunk one is massive AND has only a little bit of storage in it

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Yep, good idea potty. Altho... I see a business opportunity renting car seats for a song at airports! Now that could be yr next career move! 'potty's botty' - leave your car seats derrière' and other awful tag lines could abound :-)

MTFF said...

I am with you on this one. It's BLOODY OUTRAGEOUS! I have not heard about inflatable booster seats. This is yet another reason I leave my children behind when I come to England. When we go to my parents' house in Washington I get them to bring the booster seat in their car. They are getting tired of that. Gah!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with you. It's always an issue for us when travelling back to the UK. And I only have one child. My friends have 3 daughters and every time they holiday abroad they buy 3 seats and then give them away to families coming through arrivals on their day of departure!

Expat mum said...

I went through this with the teens but that was before the ridiculous limit on checked baggae so I just got a lovely canvas carrier for them and checked them. With the 8 y/o, we had a base which I just used to take on board with me and dare anyone to count it as my hand luggage (no one ever has, interestingly). You could try that?
Last week in Costa Rica, we went through the whole rigmarole of hiring a car and at the very end the agent told us that the booster seat age was 12, and we'd need to hire one (Only $5 per day though.) Having just upgraded our car at their suggestion, my husband just made one of his huffy puffy noises, threw his hands in the air, and the agent said he wouldn't charge us.
Don't think that would happen in England though.
The other thing we've done is buy a stomach belt (thing) which sort of feeds the regular seatbelt through and keeps it away from kids' faces and holds them safely at their shoulder. Not the long term answer but it gets you from A to B where you could have a proper booster seat waiting?

Harriet said...

£130 for a family car for the week???! Hire it! Quick!

Try over £1000 for a car for two weeks that fits six... No-one told me about that one when we went for number four. Then you add the four car seats, and the tank of petrol, and and and and even without the damage waiver liability you're looking at over £1200 for a car.

Guess what? We're driving to France this year. From Scotland. Wish us luck.

But I love Potty's Botty!

Iota said...

Potty's Botty - Pig is on form today!

You're right. It is overpriced. Boosters aren't optional extras. They're required by law. You wouldn't pay extra for the steering wheel, or the seat belts. Same sort of thing (though if I didn't have children, I probably wouldn't agree, and would maybe resent subsidising those who do).

Jen said...

Oh yes, car hire companies! We don't have a car of our own at present, so need to hire if we go further afield. Not very often. Now that we are a family of six, we'd need a seven seater. But these only come at ridiculous prices! This weekend we have a wedding in Cumbria. So we're hiring. But just a five seater. One of the kids is having to go with my Mum.

But the extra cost of the booster seats is just way over the top. Where are they getting the prices from?

Would it be worth actually writing to the companies and asking?

Expat mum said...

Coincidentally, I've just been looking at Hertz, and there's an offer on the American site giving a free booster seat if you rent a Family Collection car rental car before mid-May. (That's when you have to make the booking.) It may be worth looking on the Russian web site, or the UK web site to see if there is a similar offer.

Almost American said...

My sister used to work for a car rental company in the UK and I remember asking her about car seats the first time we travelled back there with DD. Sis told us to bring our own if at all possible even though she could have arranged for one for free. The ones her company had were definitely not as nice as our own. She said the car seats sometimes got stolen/not returned, which I really don't understand!

Making sure the seats fit was more problematical. Our seats needed a locking clip, or seat belts that had a lock function - which it turned out the rental car didn't have. The European cars were LATCH-enabled way before they started selling LATCH-enabled car seats in the US. On our last trip we took just the two bases, which fit in a duffle bag. So far we've always travelled with 2 suitcases for the 4 of use, so an extra bag on a transatlantic flight hasn't been a problem for the luggage allowance. Oddly, the carseat bases didn't fit very well in the BMW 3 series car we rented last time. Hopefully by the time we visit the UK again, we won't need a booster seat.

I agree with Iota - they're not optional extras and I think the rental companies should be required to provide them.